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"Street food is a pretty common part of life there, at least where my family grew up," Chef AC Boral said of the Philippines. "You see people just kinda hustling, they have their own individual street food that they're hustling. Pretty much anything that you could just fry up or grill up, you see it." Street food, as it happens, was about to be part of the menu at "No Guts, No Glory," a pop-up dinner held Saturday at Ampersand, the pop-up space inside Kinmont in River North. The room, which is tall, dark, and handsome (in keeping with the restaurant's Wisconsin-lodge look) had been redecorated with a whimsical hint of the Philippines via authentic tablecloths and chalk illustrations and sayings drawn around the room.
Not that Boral's experience with Filipino street food is all that direct—he was born in the U.S. (he lives in San Diego) and has only visited the Philippines twice, "so [the menu] isn't going to be super-traditional," he said. "They are traditional since they're based on my family's recipes, but it's a Filipino-American version of it. Ultimately, I'm adding shaved asparagus to a beef and peanut dish, so that's not traditional for the Philippines, but it is my own twist on it. Caramelized onion doesn't go with a tamarind fish soup, but it'll harmonize well."
The dinner was a collaborative event with Filipino Kitchen, a website about cooking and other aspects of Filipino-American heritage started by two Chicagoans, writer Sarahlynn Pablo and photographer Natalia Roxas-Alvarez. Boral came to Chicago for an earlier pair of events with them and with underground chef Julia Pham and Isla Pilipina restaurant, and they hit it off enough that he joined the masthead of Filipino Kitchen as a sort of resident chef while he and they plan more events in Chicago in the months ahead. "This menu kind of came out of a brainstorming session. I tried to make it a well-balanced menu; I tried to make it appropriate for the winter as well. That's why there's two soups on the menu but they're both really hearty and delicious," Boral said.
Like a lot of these events by young Asian-Americans, the menu conveyed a desire on the part of those involved to show off their heritage and feel more personally rooted in traditional dishes . . . but also to reflect the way people eat today, rather than re-create the ethnic restaurants that their parents and grandparents would have opened. There was definitely tongue in cheek in the street-food section, which named its items after the prized possessions of a street kid in the 1980s: a pig ear dish (well, stick) was nicknamed "Walkman," chicken feet were "Adidas," and "Betamax" was the name for a dish (which had to be replaced) made with pig's blood. The second section, comfort food, brought the style of more upscale American dining to traditional dishes like kare kare and sinigang, while the dessert course included champorado, the traditional chocolatey rice pudding eaten at breakfast, but with a definite upscale flavor (thanks to chocolate from Katherine Anne Confections).
Roxas-Alvarez told me that when they did the first dinner with Boral last October "we knew most of the people who came, it was like friends, we called them up and said hey, come on over." But this time it seemed to be drawing a crowd—enough to fill the room at Kinmont, anyway—of people interested in seeing another side of Filipino food. "I only know a couple of the names on the guest list," Roxas-Alvarez said before the doors opened. "It'll be a pleasant mix of people, I hope."